#SheInnovates: Celebrating women driving change in Timor-Leste

Women’s stories of bravery and persistence aren’t told often enough.

International Women's Day



UN Women’s theme for this year’s International Women’s Day is ‘Think Equal, Build Smart, Innovate for Change’.

We couldn’t be happier with it — because we believe not only in the power of technology to transform women’s empowerment, but in making sure women are included in the development of innovative tools and programs.

Globally, women and girls face huge gaps in representation. Access to technology and women’s ability to use and create digital tools are part of that gap. According to the GSMA Mobile Gender Gap Report 2018, in low- and middle-income countries, 184 million fewer women than men own a mobile phone. There are a number of barriers to accessibility, including cost, social barriers, harassment, language, and fears.

Today we’re sharing the stories of some amazing women at Catalpa who use innovation and technology to fight for change in Timor-Leste.

Their stories of bravery and persistence aren’t told often enough.

Living through difficult times and social norms around gender roles, they’ve overcome challenges to become leaders of innovative programs across education, health, nutrition and more.

We’re thrilled to join the global call to action and celebrate women ✊🏻✊🏽✊🏾


This is Ligia Guterres, Senior Project Officer for Catalpa’s education technology programs.

When she was a kid, Ligia looked up to her older sister who learned English from movies and songs during the Indonesian occupation. Ligia wanted to learn English and study more. But financially, things were difficult.

Nevertheless, she persisted. At the time of the 2006 conflict in Timor-Leste, Ligia studied informatics engineering while coordinating camps for internally displaced persons in Dili and working in travel and governance. After she graduated, she won a New Zealand Government scholarship to study geographical information systems and environmental management at Otago University, which she completed while working in events.

On top of her academic and professional achievements, Ligia has three kids aged five months, 2, and 9, and still makes time to fight for environmental change. She’s passionate about improving Timor-Leste’s education system through innovation, and finding small things that create big changes.



This is Maria Gama, Project Officer for the Hamutuk program. She works on a team using technology for change in the nutrition sector.

When she was a kid, she learned how important it was to fight for your rights in the aftermath of war. Through hard work, she believed she could be successful and live a better life.

So she persisted and won the Davis United World College Scholarship to complete an International Baccalaureate program in Norway and a Bachelor of Biochemistry at the University of Florida, USA.

Upon returning to Timor-Leste, she now helps run TEDxDili, sings in a choir, organises events to improve the status of women, and is leading youth as the Vice President of Hatutan.



This is Paula Viana, Project Officer for the Liga Inan maternal and child health program.

When she was a kid, she learned that in her culture, men are always at the top. With 11 members in her family, she realised women often bare the burden of child-rearing and housework. She knew she had to work twice as hard as others to get ahead in the world.

Nevertheless, she persisted. Paula wanted equality. She worked hard to prove she was capable, and was determined to go to university. She gained her family’s support to study in Indonesia. She also taught herself English, managed Telemor’s entire customer support services department, and became one of Catalpa’s first employees, helping the organisation grow when it was just beginning.

Paula works with many partners across Timor-Leste to improve healthcare. She’s helped the Liga Inan mHealth program expand to nearly her entire country, improving the lives of pregnant women, mothers and babies through innovation and technology.



This is Julia da Costa, Project Facilitator for the Matenek & Eskola programs. She works on teams using technology for change in the education sector.

When she was a kid, she was one of five siblings. She saw the importance of education when her brothers went to university. But she also saw how much work it took to be able to support them financially.

She studied hard during junior high school, won a scholarship to study pharmacy in Fiji, and went on to gain the prestigious Fulbright Scholarship to complete a Master of Regulatory Science at the University of Southern California.

Upon returning to Timor-Leste, she trained pharmacy professionals at the Universidade Nasional Timor-Leste. On top of taking care of toddler twins and a newborn, she somehow still finds time to fight for the rights of domestic workers.


. . . . . .

We haven’t always gotten a perfect score-card on gender equality at Catalpa. But as we’ve doubled in size over the past year, here are some of the things we’ve done to improve:

  • We rallied volunteers from the office to build a web app (and soon-to-be mobile app) to help coordinate response to domestic violence
  • We’ve added women leaders to our business development process
  • We did our first office-wide gender and harassment training, and
  • We implemented an out-of-country travel support policy to ensure working parents can attend conferences and meetings.

We know we can do more, and we can do better.

We’d love to hear from you — what has your organisation implemented to better support women? Tell us in the comments below.


Don't let anyone rob you of your imagination, your creativity, or your curiosity. It's your place in the world.

Dr. Mae Jemison - first African-American woman in space

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